NGO Pulse: A Decent Standard of Living

NGO Pulse: A Decent Standard of Living

Lessons Learnt: Conducting the Decent Standard of Living Study During a Global Pandemic

Managing Director of BDRC Africa Linda Findlay reflects on challenges – and very unexpected benefits – of conducting telephonic research in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was some 16 years ago that a research study was first conducted in South Africa to determine the factors that constitute a “decent standard of living”. Much has happened in our country since then, socially, politically and economically, so it was considered time to update the study to reflect the realities of living in South Africa in 2021.

The project was a collaboration between South Africa based Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) and the Labour Research Service (LRS), and the Southern African Social Policy Research Insights (SASPRI) based in the UK. The research survey was funded by UNICEF and fieldwork carried out by BDRC Africa.

Conducting a research study 15 months into a global pandemic has its challenges, but, as we discovered, it also has some unexpected benefits.
Replicating the methodology used for the original survey (face-to-face focus groups) was not an option for the new study. Consequently, a telephone interviewing methodology was adopted instead.

The response to the survey from the people we approached to participate was very good indeed. The pandemic meant that more people were working from home than would be typical in “normal” times, which enabled us to conduct more interviews during the daytime than we would normally expect.  We found response rates to be particularly good in the mid- to late afternoons, perhaps because people were looking for a diversion from work by that time of day or simply looking for some verbal interaction if they had been home alone all day.

The survey proved to be thought-provoking for many respondents, so interest levels were high. Respondents were asked to consider 50 different attributes, comprising a mix of household and personal items, activities, features of their neighbourhood and relationships with friends and family, and categorise them as being ‘essential’ for everyone to have in order to enjoy an acceptable standard of living in South Africa today, or ‘desirable’ to have, or ‘neither’.

The study dovetailed well with the change in consciousness that has been brought about by the pandemic. With more time on our hands, less social interaction with family and friends, and everyday freedoms being taken from us during lockdown, many of us have found ourselves pondering life over the past 16 months and reassessing what is fundamental and important to our well-being.

As researchers, we have noticed that possessions and material wealth have become relatively less important over the past year than in pre-covid times. Over the same period, we have also seen more emphasis placed on personal relationships, keeping family and friends safe, and making provision, wherever possible, to build a financial cushion against an uncertain future. The Decent Standard of Living Study touches on many of these concepts, albeit in a different and more specific way.

The Decent Standard of Living Study was conducted amongst a representative sample of the South African population in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, income and urban/rural dwelling. The full results of the study is currently available on the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute website.

Source: NGO Pulse